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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At Sabato’s Crystall Ball, Louis Jacobson takes a look at the longer horizon of elections and sketches “The Future Shape of the Senate.” As Jacobsen writes, “The Constitution divides the Senate into three “classes” that face the voters on six-year cycles. Under today’s political dynamics, the class that faced the voters in 2018 was favorable to the Republicans, while the class that faces the voters in 2020 is favorable to the Democrats…What about the class that faces the voters in 2022? Our analysis shows that this class is also favorable to the Democrats…If the Democrats manage to seize the Senate majority in 2020, the relatively pro-Democratic map in 2022 could insulate the party somewhat if Joe Biden is elected president and a midterm backlash benefiting the GOP emerges…The Democrats will need to run up the score in the Senate in both 2020 and 2022 if they are going to keep the majority past the 2024 elections, when the Republicans benefit from an extremely favorable map for their party.”

In his Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes about a new opportunity for bipartisan legislation that can help working people. “Last week, a group of socially conservative luminaries — are they the last surviving “compassionate conservatives”? — strongly endorsed further aid for some of the most economically vulnerable people in our country…In a letter organized by W. Bradford Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the signers called for an expansion of the earned-income tax credit, which, as they noted, “rewards work,” and a $2,000 payment this fall under the Child Tax Credit program…Progressives rightly take conservatives to task for preaching about “family values” without offering any concrete help for parents desperate to build better lives for their children. Here, happily, is one occasion when words and deeds intersect…And the Child Tax Credit is the ideal policy for bringing together the left and the kinder-hearted right. Expanding the credit has been a major cause of a group of Democrats that includes Sens. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), as well as Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Richard E. Neal (Mass.) — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). Versions of it have also won endorsement from Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Josh Hawley (Mo.).”

In her article, “Nearly 6 million donors contributed record $710 million through ActBlue in three months, group says,” Fredrecka Schouten notes at CNN politics that “In all five Senate contests considered toss-ups by the Cook Political Report — races in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Maine and Montana — Democratic challengers outraised Republican incumbent senators during the April-to-June fundraising quarter, according to candidate filings with the Federal Election Commission …Democrats need a net gain of just four seats to seize the chamber from Republicans or three if Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidency and his vice president breaks ties in a 50-50 Senate. Republicans have sought to catch up to Democrats’ online advantage…WinRed, launched last year as a conservative counterweight to ActBlue, raised more than $275 million for Republican candidates in the second quarter, the group previously announced. That set a record for the GOP platform.”

At Vox, Ezra Klein reports, “Last week, Joe Biden held a 45-minute call with a small group of reporters, including myself. The main subject of the conversation was Biden’s new plan, Build Back Better: a new, post-Covid framework for his proposals to build clean energy infrastructure, revitalize American manufacturing, make care work pay for those who do it and affordable for those who need it, and address racial inequalities. My question was simple. Democrats don’t have a path to 60 seats in the Senate. So how will Biden keep his agenda from dying at the hands of the filibuster? Would he support filibuster reform, or elimination? Biden’s reply was his campaign in miniature, reflecting both the instincts that have made him successful and the caution that has frustrated many on the left…“I think it’s going to depend on how obstreperous they” — meaning Republicans — “become, and if they become that way,” he replied. “I have not supported the elimination of the filibuster because it has been used as often to protect rights I care about as the other way around. But you’re going to have to take a look at it.”…That answer, which reflected a genuine shift in Biden’s rhetoric on the issue, made some headlines. But it wasn’t the end of Biden’s argument. “I’ll say something outrageous,” he continued. “I think I have a pretty good record of pulling together Democrats and Republicans.” He went on to say many Senate Republicans will feel “a bit liberated” by Trump’s defeat and may be ready to work with Democrats on issues like infrastructure and racial inequality.”

Klein also observes, “After the 2016 election, panicked, wounded Democrats settled on a diagnosis. Trump, for all his mania, bigotry, and chaos, had given angry Americans something to vote for. To stop him, Democrats would need to match force with counter-force, polarization with mobilization. They would need to show as much anger, as much populism, as much wrecking ball energy as he did…Biden is running — and, for now, winning — by defying that diagnosis. He is executing a careful, quiet campaign focused less on thrilling his partisans than denying Trump the boogeyman he needs to reenergize his base. It’s a campaign that frustrates liberal activists and pundits because it repeatedly, routinely denies them the excitement and collisions that structure modern politics. It’s also, for that reason, a campaign that is frustrating Trump and Fox News, which is why they keep trying to run against Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar instead.”

Klein adds, “What’s striking is how well it appears to be working. As I write this, Biden is ahead by more than 9 points in the FiveThirtyEight national polling average. The Economist’s election forecasting model gives him a 92 percent likelihood of winning the Electoral College. He leads in polling averages of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, and North Carolina. He’s neck-and-neck with Trump in Texas. Texas! As the New York Times’s Nate Cohn notes, even if polls prove as off in 2020 as they did in 2016, these numbers still predict a large Biden victory…The key to Biden’s success is simple: He’s slicing into Trump’s coalition, pulling back the older, whiter voters Democrats lost in 2016. The Biden campaign’s insight is that mobilization is often the flip side of polarization: When party activists are sharply divided by ideology and demography, what excites your side will be the very thing that unnerves the other side. Studies of House elections show this dynamic in action: Ideologically extreme candidates perform worse than moderates because they drive up turnout on the other side.”

Klein says, further, “Biden’s theory of wavering Trump voters is the same as his theory of wavering Republican senators: He thinks they want to vote with him but need help getting over their political hang-ups about voting for a Democrat. And so he is trying to give them that help. He praises the old Republican Party, refuses to pick a side in American politics’ hottest fights. Biden has resisted calls to abolish private insurance, ban fracking, decriminalize immigration, and defund the police. It’s cost him enthusiasm on the left, but it has denied Trump the clear foil he needs. That’s left Trump confused, pathetically insisting Biden holds positions Biden doesn’t hold and getting fact-checked live on Fox…Biden is treating Trump voters not as a monolith but as a coalition — a coalition that can be broken.All this has given Biden the opportunity to run the campaign he’s most comfortable with, and most suited to run. A campaign that’s more about giving people who don’t agree with him on everything permission to vote for him, rather than a campaign about mobilizing his own base. It might not work in every year, against every opponent, but it’s working this year, against this one.”

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